This story is written for entertainment purposes only, and is not meant to infringe on rights or holders of rights to Starsky and Hutch. Comments on this story can be sent to: TibbieB@yahoo.com
It was Monday morning and Starsky had made a point of showing up for work early. He h'd thought about it all weekend and was now anxious to spring the plan on Hutch. Starsky just hoped he could get his stubborn partner to go along. Lately, Hutch hadn't gone along with much of anything that he'd suggested. But desperate situations called for desperate measures, so Starsky was going for broke.
When Hutch walked through the door, Starsky noted the tell-tale dark circles under his eyes, a sure sign his friend had had another sleepless night. But this time Hutch hadn't called during the early morning hours like he usually did when he had nightmares about the murder scene in Gillian's apartment. Starsky had passed many nights lately on the telephone, talking his buddy through the insomnia. It worried him that lately the internal turmoil and grief was becoming apparent in Hutch's physical appearance.
"Mornin', partner," Starsky said. He closed the file he had been working on and tossed it back onto the desk. Hutch nodded slightly, walked directly to the coffeepot, and poured himself a mug of the disgustingly strong brew. Starsky picked up his own cup and joined him.
"Another bad night?" Starsky asked, his face mirroring concern for Hutch. He knew there were more bad nights than good.
Hutch looked over at his friend, smiling faintly. "No worse than usual."
Starsky knew his partner had a tendency to downplay his emotions. Hutch looked like hell this morning, and any doubts Starsky had about his plan vanished. He had to take some action to get Hutch back on his feet.
"Listen," he began, "you know, it's been three months and...well...I'm startin' to get a little worried about you." Hutch opened his mouth to speak, but Starsky put his hand up, delaying him. "Just let me finish, hmmm?"
"I've been where you are now, Hutch, and I know you're hurtin'. Hell, I'm hurtin' just watchin' you. But you've gotta get focused here."
He looked Hutch in the eyes as he spoke. "It doesn't mean you didn't love Gillian, it's just that...well, you know...you've gotta stop blamin' yourself. There's nothin' you can do to change things...it's time to move on."
Hutch looked away, gazing at some non-existent target in the distance. He really didn't want to have this conversation.
"I know this is the same speech you gave me when Helen died," Starsky went on. "At the time, I thought it was just words. But I finally realized you were right." Starsky laid his hand on Hutch's shoulder. "Now, you need to listen to me. Trust me, partner...it's gonna get easier as time goes by."
"Look, Starsk," Hutch interrupted, "you and Nancy have been great, dragging me around like a third wheel; and I appreciate your attempts to fix me up with someone, but it's just too soon."
"I'm not talkin' about match-makin', Hutch—just gettin' on with your life," he answered with empathy. Then Starsky flashed one of his killer smiles, eager to lighten the mood.
"Listen, I gotta plan I think you're gonna like," he hurried on before Hutch could interrupt again. "It's gonna be terrific."
Hutch took a deep breath and stirred an extra packet of sugar into his coffee. Oh, boy, here we go. What kind of wild scheme have you hatched up in that head of yours now, buddy? He walked over to his desk and sat down, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
"Okay, Starsk, lay it out. What's the plan?"
Starsky's eyes brightened with excitement now, as he came around the desk and perched on the edge. "Here ya go," he said, plopping open a brochure filled with brightly colored photos of young, healthy, men and women backpacking and fly-fishing in the great, clean outdoors of northern California. Right up Hutch's alley. He won't be able to resist this!
Starsky waited a beat for his partner's reaction, all the while nodding his own approval, anxious for a response. "Whatta ya say...huh?"
Hutch looked at the brochure, then looked up from under hooded lids at his friend's enthusiastic face.
"Starsk—buddy—you don't even like the woods. What are you suggesting here? And you know we can't get any time off right now. Our caseload is way too heavy. Besides, trips like this are expensive."
"No problem—the vacation time nor the money. Piece of cake." Starsky beamed. "Done worked it out with Dobey, AND I have a friend at a travel agency who's gonna get us the deal of the century." He smiled like the cat who ate the canary, confident that he had the answers to everything. "Pretty terrific, huh?"
"Oh, yeah? How did you convince Dobey to let us take off?" Hutch truly was curious, all too aware of how much time he'd lost when Gillian died.
"Told him I won a sweepstake and got this great vacation for two—free." Still grinning like a silly little boy, Starsky continued, "Told him we had to take it now or forfeit my prize. Couldn't argue with that."
Hutch's eyes rolled back in his head as he envisioned the performance Starsky must have given to get Captain Dobey to buy that story!
"I reminded him of all the overtime we put in on the Amboy case and told him we deserved a little comp time. Couldn't argue with that either." Starsky's blue eyes sparkled as he warmed up to his subject.
"Money." Hutch pointed out. "Trips take money. I don't know how much of a deal your friend is going to give us, but unless it's under than $200, it's out of my league."
"Already taken care of," the grinning Starsky answered. "Just say you'll come.
I've got everything worked out."
Hutch stood up and walked back over to warm his now room-temperature coffee. "I don't know Starsk. I'm really not good company right now. And like I said, you wouldn't enjoy a trip like this." He turned and looked at Starsky, unable to hide the sorrow in his eyes. "You don't have to baby sit me, you know."
"That's not it," Starsky said. "I just think you need a change of scenery. And if I can get us a vacation out of it, why can't you just humor me—huh?"
Starsky lowered his voice and said more seriously, "Look, Hutch...I mean it. I really am worried about you. I mean, you're my partner—the best friend I have in this world; and I see you fallin' apart right in front of my eyes." He laid his hand firmly on Hutch's shoulder to emphasize his point. "I think a change of pace, you know, doing somethin' you really enjoy, will be good for you."
Hutch shook his head and smiled. "Let me think about it, okay?" Starsky agreed, then dropped the subject to begin the day's work.
"This is IT? We're supposed to fly to Klamath in this? Starsk, I don't know." Hutch stared at the small airplane in disbelief. It hardly looked sturdy enough to keep from collapsing on the runway, much less become airborne.
"Aw, come on, Hutch." Starsky walked toward the twin prop plane, an obvious old junker that had been somewhat restored. When Artie said the flight would be cheap, and no frills, Starsky hadn't expected he'd have to bring his own rubber bands to hold it together. He put on a confident face, though, afraid Hutch would back out if he showed the slightest hesitancy.
Hutch walked to the back of the craft, looking as though he knew what he was doing. Starsky followed. "It'll be fine," he was saying, as much to convince himself, as to convince Hutch.
Crouched at the rear of the plane was a scruffy man with a shock of flaming red hair tied back in a ponytail. The part of his face not covered by a red, bushy beard was sprinkled liberally with ruddy freckles, giving him the appearance of a permanent sunburn.
"Hey, dudes—looking for somebody?" He stood up, wiping grease-covered hands on the front of his khaki green coveralls. The man was least two inches taller than Hutch, so Starsky had to look up at him as he spoke.
"Yeah, as a matter of fact, we are," Starsky answered, "I'm Starsky, he's Hutchinson. We booked a charter with 'Flying High Charters' to go up to the Klamath National Forest to do some fishin'. This the plane?"
"Yeah, man, ain't she a beaut? I'm Carl Parks; she belongs to me. I'm the pilot-mechanic-owner and flight attendant. You must be the dudes Johnny Whitecloud's expecting. We'll be ready to take off in about thirty minutes. I'm just winding up here. You can go ahead and put your gear on board."
Clearly, Hutch wasn't reassured. He walked around the plane twice more, checking it from every angle. Starsky knew for a fact that Hutch didn't know anything about airplanes, so he saw this as an exercise in futility.
Finally, Hutch headed back toward the parking lot, motioning with his head for Starsky to follow. When they were out of range for Parks to overhear, Hutch turned to his partner. "I don't know, Starsk, I just don't feel good about this."
"Don't be a baby, Hutch," Starsky nagged. "This guy probably flew hundreds of missions in Nam and's a crack pilot. They wouldn't give 'em a license to fly now, would they, if he didn't know what he was doin'. Huh?"
"It's not the pilot I'm worried about, it's this World War I relic he's flying. I think we should call it off, Starsk, and get your money back."
Starsky fidgeted, looking down at his sneakers as he mumbled, "Can't do that. No refunds. That's how I got such a great deal on the tickets."
"What? You accepted those terms without seeing the airplane? Starsky, how lame-brained could you be?" Hutch was really irritated and wasn't trying to hide it.
"Where'd you get the money for this trip anyway? You've been secretive about that from the beginning. Now level with me."
"You don't need to know where it came from, only that I got it. It wasn't illegal or nothin' like that. Let's just say I had raised some cash for an investment that never happened. So I had the cash on hand."
Realization hit Hutch like a ton of bricks. This was the money Starsky had scraped up to give Gillian when he tried to convince her to leave LA. When Starsky found out Gillian was a high-priced hooker, he'd offered her a bribe to leave town before Hutch discovered the truth. Rather than accept the money, Gillian convinced Starsky she was in love with Hutch and was going to sever her ties with Al Grossman. That decision had led to her murder.
Hutch knew Starsky was carrying around a whole load of guilt, blaming himself for not being there to protect her. But Hutch also knew Gillian's fate had been sealed long before he met her—when she hired on as one of Grossman's girls. He didn't blame Starsky for what had gone down. But this was Starsky's way of trying to ease Hutch's pain, as well as his own. This trip was more than a vacation to Starsky; it was a peace offering...an apology...a penance.... Still, Hutch was astounded at what Starsky had done.
"You're talking about the eighteen hundred dollars you had saved? My God, Starsk, I can't believe you paid eighteen hundred dollars for us to fly on this hunk of junk. It took you a long time to save that money. This wasn't necessary."
"Well, not all of it went for the charter, Hutch. There were other expenses. You'll see; it was money well-spent. Now, stop yellin' at me and help me get our gear outta the car."
Starsky popped the trunk lid on the red Torino where a treasure-trove of shinny new fishing gear was stored: fly-rods, wading boots, nets for scooping up the fish and camouflage vests sporting a variety of hooks, tackles and brightly colored lures and spinners that glittered when the sun touched them. There were even two small wicker fish baskets for carrying their catch.
Starsky reached into the trunk and plucked out a fishing cap with, "You Should See the One that Got Away!" printed across the front in bold red letters, and plopped it onto Hutch's head, crushing his blond hair down over his forehead. Then he stepped back and gave a thumbs up sign to show his approval.
Wearing the goofy hat, Hutch stood there as Starsky dug further back into the trunk and retrieved two downy-lined sleeping bags, a lantern, two back-packs, and two canteens. Hutch had thought their two duffel bags, hastily tossed in the back seat were their only luggage.
Hutch was speechless. He turned to look at his partner and found Starsky grinning from ear to ear, apparently waiting for him to show a little enthusiasm. Hutch knew his friend had no clue what he was doing when he bought all this paraphernalia, and obviously had given no thought as to how they were going to carry it while hiking the forest and streams in search of the "big catch". The humor of the situation suddenly struck him. He couldn't help himself—it first began as a chuckle, then grew louder and louder until he was hooting with laughter.
"What? What? Come on, Hutch, what's so funny?"
From the outset, it seemed impossible that all the junk Starsky had bought could be crowded into the cabin of the small Cessna; but somehow it was. The take-off went smoothly enough, though Hutch had his doubts as he listened to the overworked engine sputtering during the lift off. Starsky seemed to be having a ball, not in the least bit concerned about such things.
"Say, where you dudes from?" Carl asked over his shoulder. A small 8-track tape player was in the front of the cockpit next to the pilot. Starsky leaned forward a little to speak above Gracie Slick and the Jefferson Airplane, who were belting out "White Rabbit," a vintage hit from Carl's hippie days.
"LA," Starsky shouted back.
"Oh, yeah? Whattaya do there?"
Hutch looked over at his partner, gesturing with his eyes here we go again.
The corners of Starsky's lips quirked into a wicked little smile. "Cops—we're two bad-ass cops in LA." Here comes the reaction, Hutch.
"Whoa...faaar out, dudes."
No smart-aleck comeback? This had to be a first. Starsky & Hutch exchanged a look of surprise.
"Cops that fish...imagine that, man...imagine that," was the pilot's only reply.
Bracken slammed the hood shut on the broken-down Chevy, cursing it for dying on him, cursing himself for not having a back-up plan, and cursing God and Life because nothing ever seemed to go his way. What kind of rotten luck could hit him next? He'd made a clean get away with a cool half million in unmarked bills, and now he was stuck in the middle of the damn woods and no damn way out!
He knew, by now they were looking for him. Shooting that guard at the bank had dashed any hopes he may have had of getting off with a short jail sentence if he was caught. No, he was on the run, and there was no turning back. He knew one thing for certain—he wouldn't go back to prison. Never. He'd find a way out of here, or die trying. Most likely the cops had an APB out on him. He didn't know if they got the tag number, but he was fairly certain they had a good description of the silver '67 Malibu, and at least a general description of him.
Bracken decided to roll the car down the embankment and camouflage it with pine boughs. He'd travel parallel to the road, but stay under the cover of the trees' canopy. Maybe then, they wouldn't spot him by helicopter. Not a great strategy, but the only one he had at the moment.
Pushing the dead car from the road to the edge of the ravine proved to be more difficult than he'd expected. But once it started rolling and gained momentum, he just stepped back and let gravity finish the job. Sweaty and hotter than hell itself, Bracken dropped down against the trunk of a tree in the cool shade to catch his breath before trying to hide the abandoned getaway car.
All he had retrieved from the car before it plunged into the ravine was the backpack stuffed full of stolen cash, his jacket, a flashlight, and of course, the gun. He couldn't forget the gun, along with several rounds of ammo. No water, no food—not even a candy bar. So much for a well-thought-out heist.
Starsky and Hutch were worried. The thunderstorm had come out of nowhere. At first, Carl had told them, 'no big deal.' But in a short while, the flight went from bumpy, to a wild roller coaster ride, with lightning popping like the Fourth of July in every direction. Hutch looked over at his partner and noticed Starsky was a little green around the mouth.
"Umm, Carl, you wanna give us a progress report back here?" Starsky asked, "I mean, I think my partner here is...umm...a little nervous..." Hutch rolled his eyes heavenward in disbelief. Just like Starsky to pretend HE was the nervous one.
"Chill out dude, everything's under control—I jus—" The rest of Carl's words were lost in the loud explosion as a bolt of lightning struck the right propeller, causing fire to shoot out from it in all directions.
"Oh, shit, man, this ain't good!" he shouted above the noise of the sputtering prop as it burst into a full-fledged fire.
Starsky and Hutch looked at one another, each silently seeking some reassurance from the other. "Talk to us, Carl," Hutch shouted. "Are we going down?"
"May-day, may-day, this is flight K343 out of LA, do you copy? I repeat may-day, may-day, this is Carl Parks out of LA. We've been struck by lightning and are losing altitude fast, man. We're somewhere over the Klamath National Forest, but my instruments are fried. Cannot, I repeat, cannot give coordinates...may-day, may-day..."
"Hutch," Starsky's hand clamped around Hutch's forearm like a vice. "I'm sorry, partner. This whole trip was my idea. Now we're probably gonna die in this piece of junk." In spite of the seriousness of their situation, Starsky couldn't help but notice that Hutch still had the awful fishing cap pulled down over his head.
Hutch was scared too, but tried to sound confident. "Come on, Starsk, you know we've been in worse predicaments. And don't try to take all the blame. You know, I could always have said no to this trip. You were just trying to help me."
"You dudes better make sure your seatbelts are buckled. I'm trying to keep her in the air till I can find a clearing; but visibility is zero, man. If we go down in these trees, we're in big trouble." The pilot was struggling with the rudder, trying to level out the plane's descent.
Starsky reached to the front of the cockpit and grabbed the radio mic, intending to send out the may-day again. Carl stopped him short. "No use, dude. Radio's not working. I don't believe anyone heard me the first time."
The fire from the propeller was quickly climbing up the wing toward the cabin. Only the rain, coming down in torrential sheets, was slowing its approach. But considering how small the craft was it didn't have far to travel anyway.
"Listen dudes, I've turned on the transponder, the homing beacon; so when we crash, even if we're unconscious, somebody may be able to locate us from that." Carl's voice was almost drowned out by the high-pitch whine from the fast descent of the aircraft now.
"......emerg.... provis....under....first aid...blanke...." They could only catch a syllable here and there above the deafening whine.
"Hutch," Starsky shouted above the noise. "You've been the best friend a guy could ever ask for." His voice was thick with emotion.
"Same here, buddy. And you've been the brother I never had." Hutch gripped his partner's hand to shake it for one last time. "We're gonna make it...."
"Yeah, right...me and thee..." were the last words Starsky spoke before they were enveloped by the thunderous roar and the shrieking of tearing metal.
Bracken crouched beneath a stone overhang, trying to get out of the rain that was now coming down in sheets. His main concern was keeping the money dry.
Then he heard it, coming from somewhere overhead. First, just a hum; then a high-pitched whine, growing closer and louder by the second. Looking toward the sky, Bracken couldn't see anything for the trees, a thick, low-hanging ceiling over the dark forest. Whatever it was, it was big.
When he heard the explosion, he first thought it was thunder. Just as quickly, it dawned on him—an airplane going down. Bracken stood up and tried to get a fix on the direction of the sound. He could tell it was northeast of him, but the distance was impossible to guess. He turned his head to the side, listening. Another loud boom—but not as loud as the first.
Maybe a search plane, or a chopper...looking for me. Maybe not. Maybe just some poor slob caught in the storm. Hey, there may be supplies on board. Even better, maybe if there ain't too much damage, it could fly me outta this hell-hole!
Bracken chuckled to himself. His short stint in the coast guard, both as a mechanic and piloting sea planes may come in handy after all. He'd wait a little while and see if the rain let up. They weren't going anywhere—and he didn't want to get his money wet.
Icy cold needles, striking his face...Where am I...why am I so wet and cold?
Gradually, Starsky struggled toward consciousness. So cold...Hutch?
Starsky's eyes slowly opened, still not registering where he was...what was going on. My head, God, my head hurts! Hutch? Where's Hutch?
Starsky raised a hand to his throbbing head, feeling disoriented and groggy, his mind trying to focus, but unable to make sense of what was happening. As the cold raindrops kept pelting his body, reality began seeping back into his brain. Starsky slowly sat up then waited a moment for the dizziness to subside. The forest was silent except from soft patter of the rain falling on the leaves.
Finally, realization. The airplane had crashed; they had gone down in the woods. HUTCH
CH! Oh my God, where's Hutch!
Starsky scrambled to his knees and looked around him in every direction for some sign of his partner. His heart pounding in his chest, Starsky's eyes fell on the twisted, charred remains of the airplane. Plumes of dark smoke were twirling upward from the debris.
Oh God, no, please—! Starsky crawled toward the wreckage, afraid of what he would find, but knowing if Hutch had survived, he needed help now. No time to fall apart.
When Starsky reached the plane, he saw the front part of the cockpit was missing, and with it—Carl. He scrambled to where the passenger cabin should be, and found the seat Hutch had been sitting in lying on the other side of the wreckage. No Hutch.
His head pounding now, running a close second only to his heartbeat, Starsky wasn't even aware of the warm, sticky blood running down his face from a gash in his scalp, the source of the throbbing pain.
Like a man possessed, he began tearing away the twisted metal and debris around the fuselage of the airplane, searching frantically, disregarding the heat emanating from many of the pieces.
Please Hutch, please be okay.
As the falling rain cooled the wreckage, steam rose, causing an eerie, fog-like atmosphere.
"Hutch! Where are you? Answer me!"
Starsky saw a hand, barely visible, near the nose of the craft. He grabbed the section of metal concealing the body and hastily threw it to one side.
There, glaring back at him with glassy, expressionless eyes was Carl Parks. Poor Carl.... Even before bending down to check for a pulse, Starsky knew there was nothing he could do. Carl had not survived the impact. This only terrified Starsky more.
Get a grip, Starsky; you can't help Hutch if you lose it.
He took several deep breaths, trying to calm himself, then began systematically searching through the debris for Hutch.
Then he spotted it—the bold red letters, 'the One that Got Away', lying about twenty feet from the rear of the aircraft. Beside it was one of the brightly colored sleeping bags, half covered by what appeared to be a fragment of the tail section.
Starsky half-ran, half-stumbled toward the rubble, praying in his mind that he would find Hutch alive, in one piece... "Hutch! Hutch! Answer me!" he shouted as he ran.
Starsky hurriedly dug through the debris, careful not to allow it to slide down and bury his partner, causing further injury. Finally he reached Hutch, who was lying on his back, one leg at an odd angle. The left side of his face was splattered with blood and dirt. He was so still, Starsky stopped, almost afraid to know the truth.
"Oh, God—Hutch? You okay? Talk to me, partner. It's Starsk—talk to me." No response. Starsky threw caution to the wind and moved the rest of the debris as fast as he could; not a minute to waste.
He dropped to his knees and lowered his head to Hutch's chest, listening for a heartbeat...breathing...any sign of life. Starsky kept listening—and praying.
It was faint, but he could hear it. He placed two fingers against the artery in Hutch's throat, and gratefully found the weak pulse he was searching for. Starsky struggled to organize his thoughts. He instinctively knew that keeping a cool head was necessary for their survival. Methodically, he began checking Hutch for injuries. For the first time he could recall, Starsky was grateful that Captain Dobey had strong-armed his detectives into taking the first aid course offered to all police officers on the force.
The leg was definitely broken. It had already begun to swell and turn a sickly shade of purple. Starsky was relieved it wasn't an open fracture. At least there was no wound to cause infection. He was less certain about the head injury, but if the amount of blood was any indication, it was bad.
The front of Hutch's shirt was partially torn away and blood was seeping from numerous minor cuts and scrapes which appeared to Starsky to be only superficial wounds. Oblivious that he had at least as many himself, Starsky hadn't noticed that the falling rain mingling with the blood had washed his shirt to a pale pink.
Hutch moaned when Starsky gently touched his head, trying to locate the source of the blood.
"Hutch...I don't wanna hurt you, but I gotta see where the blood's comin' from, okay?"
Starsky was encouraged to hear a soft whimper in response. It was the first sound Hutch had made. He knew with a head injury, there was always the possibility of concussion; and if that was the case, it would be important that Hutch regain consciousness as soon as possible.
With dusk rapidly approaching, Starsky realized he had to find shelter—and soon. The wreckage offered no refuge, but maybe he could salvage something useful there. Parks had been trying to tell them about emergency provisions just before the aircraft made it's final descent, but Starsky couldn't hear the man clearly enough to know what he could expect to find.
"Hutch—Hutch, wake up. Come on—you gotta wake up." Starsky lightly patted Hutch's face, trying to bring him to as gently as possible.
"Gotta wake up, buddy. We gotta find shelter." Hutch's eye lids fluttered, but did not fully open.
Starsky was completely out of his element here. Hutch was the nature boy; he was the city kid. Hutch, what am I gonna do? Wake up partner, you gotta tell me what to do.
But Starsky knew, like it or not, it was going to be up to him to get them out of this jam. He ran a hand nervously through his hair. Frustrated, he looked around to see what he had to work with. Realizing he was getting no where with his attempts to rouse his partner, Starsky gently lifted the Hutch's head and slid a scrap of seat cushion beneath it.
"Wait here, Hutch. Don't move. I'll be right back."
He hurried to the wreckage and began searching for any and all things that could be useful to their survival. By the time Starsky had scoured the area, he had scraped together the camping lantern, which was miraculously still intact; two canteens; both sleeping bag; and the emergency kit the pilot had tried to tell them about.
The case holding the kit had flown open on impact, the contents strewn around it. Fortunately, he was able to recover most of the items, including: a flashlight, a small first aid kit, a Swiss army knife and a variety of other little items he didn't take time to inventory. Starsky put the recovered supplies into one of the new fishing baskets and went back to where his partner still lay unconscious.
"Okay, it's a start," he said. "Now, I'm gonna find us some cover. Gotta get you outta this rain." Still no response from Hutch.
Darkness was descending, and with it, rapidly dropping temperatures. Starsky turned 360 degrees, searching through the dusk for anything that could serve as a temporary shelter. About 100 yards to the east, past a stand of pines, he spotted an outcropping of rocks.
Maybe there's a cave...or at least enough over-hang to protect Hutch.
Starsky grabbed the two sleeping bags and sprinted to the rock formation. It wasn't much of a cave, but it did offer a small nook that they could squeeze into; maybe even have a modest fire to stave off the night chill.
Starsky quickly spread one of the waterproof sleeping bags as close to the back wall of the cave as possible. Having done that, he ran back to the crash site and grabbed another load of their meager equipment and provisions, and took it to the shelter. As he was heading back the third time, he heard Hutch call his name.
Starsky dropped the supplies and went to him. "Right here, partner. It's okay...I'm with ya," he reassured Hutch. "We're gonna be alright."
Hutch was trying to sit up, his eyes wild with fear and confusion. He obviously didn't know where he was or what had happened. Starsky knelt down and gently turned Hutch's face toward him.
"Look at me, Hutch. Listen to me, now, okay? The plane went down, but we're gonna be fine." Starsky spoke slowly, searching Hutch's eyes for a spark of comprehension. "Do you hear me, Hutch, huh? Do you understand?"
Hutch slowly nodded and repeated, "Plane went down...okay. Hurts, Starsk...why does it hurt?"
"Because you got pretty banged up, partner. But you're alive; and you recognize this ugly mug, so you can't be too bad off." Starsky allowed himself a brief moment of relief and smiled encouragingly. Hutch tried to return the smile, but couldn't quite pull it off.
"Stay with me Hutch. Stay with me," he said, still holding Hutch's face to keep his attention. "Now, I gotta move you. Okay? And it's probably gonna hurt like hell. You up to it? Huh?"
Hutch's lids were beginning to droop. "Stay with me, Hutch. You with me, huh?
Huh? I can't do this alone...."
Hutch forced his eyes to open again. "Sure, Starsk...okay...tough..."
Starsky glanced around for something to immobilize the broken leg. He dreaded causing Hutch more pain, but it couldn't be helped. They had to get out of the cold rain. In his weakened condition, Hutch was a prime candidate for pneumonia. If Carl was right, and no one who could initiate a search had picked up their may-day, it could be days before anyone even knew they were missing.
Starsky scrounged through the wreckage, gathering supplies to make a splint. He decided remnants of the airplane's cushioned seats would serve well as padding between the bone and the splint. He rapidly sifted through several sections of shattered fiberglass from the broken wings to find three pieces, lightweight, yet strong and rigid enough to support Hutch's leg.
Once everything was in place, he used the knife to slit the leg of Hutch's jeans and fold it back to gain better access to the injured bone. "Not as bad as it could be," he whispered to himself. Only the tibia appeared to be broken, so the fibula would provide some natural support. The flesh was swollen and dark. Starsky had had more than one broken bone as a kid, so he knew no matter how careful he was, the move would be painful for Hutch.
After padding the leg carefully on three sides, Starsky positioned the three sections of the fiberglass to form a makeshift splint. He slipped off his belt and used it, along with several strips of gauze and tape, to hold everything in place.
Hutch proved to have a high tolerance to pain. He stoically worked at concealing his discomfort while Starsky hurried to apply the splint. Starsky apologized at least two hundred times; mindful of every wince and grunt Hutch let slip; hating like hell that he couldn't do anything to make it easier for his friend. By the time they were done, Hutch was pale as a ghost, and Starsky was shaking from the strain.
He sat back for a moment after making a final check of the splint. "Okay, buddy, I think that should do it. I'm gonna need to check these straps pretty often to make sure you're getting circulation in that leg. You've got to let me know if it gets numb, or if you think it's too tight." Hutch nodded in response.
"Well, I guess we're ready to move," Starsky told him. "I know you're hurtin' pretty bad right now, so we may as well go on and get you settled in the shelter. Then I'll hunt through that first aid kit and find somethin' to help the pain, okay?"
Biting down hard on his bottom lip, Hutch was unable to speak. He just nodded, and braced himself for a bumpy ride on the crude sled Starsky had modeled from another of the fiberglass panels salvaged from the downed aircraft. Starsky laid a comforting hand on Hutch's shoulder before they began; a silent commitment to do his best.
Darkness had fallen and Starsky, more than a little nervous about the local wildlife, was anxious to get them to the cave. In less desperate circumstances, Hutch would have loved this opportunity to tease Starsky. But right now, there was nothing humorous about their situation. Starsky gently helped his partner onto the sled, discretely pretending not to notice the unshed tears of pain glistening in Hutch's eyes.
The rain slowed to a fine drizzle as Starsky trudged through the woods, pulling the sled behind him. In the distance, he heard a coyote howl, prompting him to pick up the pace a little. Hutch smiled in the darkness, knowing his partner would never admit it, but the sound of that one lone animal was more frightening to him than three armed criminals.
Bracken was wet and miserable, not to mention hungry. The rain had stopped, but it was dark now and he had better sense than to start his search for the downed aircraft before daylight. In the quiet darkness, he replayed the earlier scene at the bank in his mind.
Damned stupid bank guard! What'd he care about the money? Why couldn't he just do as he was told? Well, it doesn't matter now. I'm gonna head for Canada and hide out there till things cool down. Then go south to Mexico. Finally, I'll get the respect I deserve. Money. That's the key. Everyone's gonna respect Joe Bracken now...
The ex-con had had plenty of time to think since shooting the guard two days ago. Once he was paroled, he hadn't wasted any time getting on with his life of crime. Joe Bracken had done eighteen months hard time for dealing drugs. He had learned one important lesson while in prison; and that was, he'd never go back. He couldn't stand the confinement—and he wouldn't tolerate taking orders. So, if that meant knocking off some dumb-jerk guard, well...that was okay.
Bracken had been on the road to self-destruction since the age of twelve, when he stole a transistor radio from the five and dime store. It had been too easy! He was tired of always wanting things he couldn't have. All he could think was, 'why hadn't he tried this before?'
He may have come from a poor family, but Bracken didn't intend to do without the finer things in life. Hell no! So, after the petty theft of the radio, he started the rapid slide into a life of crime, which had now culminated in murder. The only honest work he had ever done was his short stint in the Coast Guard. Even there, he had been in trouble, and eventually turned out on a dishonorable discharge. In and out of juvie court and reformatories for delinquent teens, Bracken had learned from the experts. In spite of everything, he hadn't been prepared for prison. By the time he was released on parole, he had joined the ranks of the cold-blooded, egotistical criminal.
The scary thing was, Bracken felt no remorse for killing the middle-aged, middle-class family man. No, the only remorse he felt right now was that he was stranded in this God-forsaken, wet, cold place without a hot meal or a dry change of clothes. Hunger cramped his empty stomach and reminded him he had not eaten in over 24 hours. Damn, I hope there were supplies on that plane. And I hope there weren't any survivors stupid enough to think I'll share with them.
The man laughed out loud, then wrapped his arms around himself in a hopeless attempt to stay warm. The temperatures were dropping; it would be a long night.
Thoughts of how he would spend the satchel full of money would just have to keep him warm until morning.
Starsky fumbled around with the lantern, having absolutely no idea how to light it. Finally, he set it aside and turned on the flashlight again. He was reluctant to run down the battery, but really didn't know what else to do. Hutch huddled against the stone wall, shivering. Starsky could tell he was still in a good deal of pain and was chilled from the cold rain.
"Hold on, pal." Starsky dumped the contents of the first aid kit, searching for painkillers. He found nothing but a bottle of extra-strength Tylenol, which Hutch gratefully accepted. "I'm gonna go back to the plane and find us some dry clothes. Will you be okay here without the flashlight?"
"Starsk," Hutch rose up on one elbow, "I can help you with that lantern, if you'll pass it over here."
A smile lit Starsky's face. He knew Hutch was doing much better if he was clear-headed enough to recognize that Starsky didn't have a clue how to work the lantern.
"Hey, that's terrific!" Starsky grabbed the lantern and scooted over to Hutch and held the flashlight so he could see. With a joint effort, they soon had the lantern glowing warm and bright. This small accomplishment did a lot to raise their spirits.
Once the lantern was blazing, Starsky cleaned the wound on Hutch's head and wrapped some of the gauze around it to staunch the bleeding. Fortunately, it didn't look as serious as he first thought; probably wouldn't even require any stitches. By now, Hutch was more coherent and had begun to realize the gravity of the situation. Looking up at Starsky, he noticed for the first time that his partner was bleeding pretty badly himself.
"Starsk," he reached up and touched the gash at the edge of Starsky's brow, "you're hurt. Don't you know you you're bleeding?"
Starsky touched his forehead and realized that he was bleeding. It was pretty sore, and was probably the cause of the headache still nagging him. "Must not be too serious, Blondie, or I would'na been able to drag your sorry carcass over here." Starsky gave him a lop-sided grin, trying to make light of the injury.
"Better let me bandage it up for you," Hutch offered.
"Yeah, well, done used up all the gauze." That wasn't entirely true, but he wanted to save it for repairing Hutch's splint if needed. "I'm sure you could do a terrific job but it's not bleedin' that bad."
"In my back pocket, Starsk." Hutch painfully rolled to one side so Starsky could get to the pocket. He pulled out a red bandana, one he'd seen Hutch wear every so often.
"At least tie my bandana around your head. Can't have you bleeding to death. Who's going pull me out of here on that contraption if you aren't around?"
Chuckling to himself, Starsky did as Hutch ordered, glad to see his partner's sense of humor intact. "Thanks a million. What would I do without ya?" Starsky teased.
That taken care of, he unrolled the other sleeping blanket and proceeded wrap it around Hutch like a big quilt. "Don't wanna get the inside of your sleepin' bag wet. So just stay wrapped up in this until I can bring you some dry clothes, okay?"
Shivering with cold, and exhausted from the painful trek to their campsite, Hutch was in no condition to argue. He just nodded his agreement and watched as Starsky made ready to leave.
"I'll be back as quick as I can, Blondie. You just stay here and keep the home fires burnin'." Starsky stood up to leave, taking the flashlight to find his way.
He realized that a fire sounded pretty good about now, but with the woods saturated by the heavy rains, there would be little likelihood of finding any thing dry enough to burn.
"Starsk," Hutch called out. Starsky turned around. "Be careful. And, uh...my cap—you know, my fishing cap—will you bring it when you come?"
"Sure thing, Hutch—sure thing." With a smile, Starsky disappeared into the darkness.
Starsky walked through the woods, listening to the night sounds, sounds he wasn't at all comfortable with. When he heard the lonesome howl of the coyote again, he picked up the pace. Each snapping twig, each nocturnal bird call, and even the croaking tree frogs reminded him of a scene from some cheesy horror flick.
Brilliant, Starsky. Brilliant plan. If you wanted to help Hutch and take him on a vacation, why not Vegas, or...or...Disney World? Fishin' and campin'...brilliant.
By the time Starsky reached the wreckage, he was almost at a dead run. Debris was scattered in every direction, some still smoldering, in spite of the earlier rain. Even with the flashlight, he was able to find only Hutch's duffel bag of clothing. It was getting late and the temperature was still dropping, so Starsky decided not to spend anymore time searching in the dark. He would just bum a change of clothing from Hutch and come back tomorrow.
Just as he reached down and hoisted up the duffel, Starsky heard a scratching sound to his left. He turned around and was met by a pair of glowing, red eyes and a loud hissing sound. Instinctively, his left hand darted beneath his right arm, reaching for the Smith & Wesson. For the first time, Starsky realized he didn't have his gun. It was in the missing duffel bag. He had debated even bringing it along; but old habits die hard; so the gun had been packed in the duffel bag, just in case.
He swung the flashlight around, pointing directly at the intruder, half expecting to see the coyote. Instead, it was only a huge raccoon, scrounging for a free meal. But to Starsk, the city kid, he was a wild animal, intimidating, and scary. Deciding the party was over; the frightened raccoon scurried back into the forest.
Starsky decided to check out the area the raccoon had been scavenging. There, he discovered the paper sack he had stuffed full of candy bars, chips, and beef jerky sticks and brought along to snack on during the flight. Fortunately, most of the cellophane packages were still intact. It may have been junk food to Hutch, but to Starsky, it was manna from heaven. And he had the sneaking suspicion that by now, it would look pretty damn good to Hutch, too.
Starsky opened the duffel bag and rifled through the contents, searching for Hutch's Magnum. He located the gun hidden beneath the clothes, but found no ammo, other than that already in the cylinder. Disappointed, but at the same time relieved at finding at least one gun, Starsky deposited the food sack and the gun into the duffel, then made one last pass around the airplane.
It was then he remembered Carl Parks.
Aw man, how could I forget Carl?
He felt a brief moment of guilt, then realistically acknowledged; it wasn't exactly as if he hadn't had a lot on his mind. Starsky knew he couldn't bury the body right now, but it just didn't seem decent to leave him lying out in the open with wild animals already scavenging the crash site.
Despite the fatigue and hunger plaguing him, Starsky knew what he had to do. Armed with the flashlight, he gathered a few of the larger, unbroken panels of the aircraft and covered the corpse as best he could. Then he placed heavier pieces of debris on top to weight them down. It wasn't exactly a perfect solution, but Starsky hoped it would hold until they could do better by the man.
Now totally exhausted, Starsky picked up the duffel bag and started back to the campsite. He had only taken a few steps when he turned around and came back. He promised to bring Hutch's fishing cap...and he damned-well wasn't going back without it.
Seth Carter sat at the air-traffic control panel watching anxiously. He could have sworn he heard a may-day. But the transmission was so broken up; he couldn't make out more than just a few words. Something about Klamath and a lightning strike. God knew, there had been some pretty bad weather in that area today. Anything could happen when the lightning and wind started playing games with small aircraft. Still, he just didn't have much to go on.
Co-worker, John McGinness stood behind Seth, looking at the screen too. "Maybe we can check some of the flight plan records and see if anyone isn't where he should be by now," John suggested. "Did the guy say where he was from, or give his destination?"
"Nah...well, maybe...hell, I don't know, John. I told you, I only made out a few words. Anyway, there's over a million acres of forest up there. Unless his emergency transponder is working, we'll never find him."
"Still, it may be worth a try. There are a lot of those small puddle jumpers that regularly fly folks out here for fishing and camping trips. Let's check with San Francisco and LA airports and see what we can find out."
Seth sighed, and he reached for his coffee mug, inscribed with a bright yellow smiley face and the fad phrase, 'HAVE A NICE DAY!'. "Sure, why not. Maybe someone has contacted one of the airports by now about a no-show."
"I'll make a few calls," John offered, then left Seth to drink his cold coffee.
When Starsky arrived back at the camp, he found Hutch sitting up, sound asleep. He looked so peaceful; Starsky hated to wake him. He reached out and gently touched the bandage on Hutch's head to assure himself the bleeding had not started again.
Hutch stirred, then his eyes flew open in surprise.
"It's okay, buddy. It's only me," Starsky reassured him. "Sorry I woke you, but I got'cha some dry clothes here. I'll give you a hand."
"I was starting to worry. What took you so long?"
"Took awhile to find your bag. Never did come across mine. You'll have to share some of your clothes with me until I can do a better search in the daylight. And I guess I should go ahead and tell you—Carl didn't make it, Hutch."
"Aw God, Starsk, I didn't even think about Carl." Starsky heard the remorse in Hutch's voice.
"Yeah, well, he bought it on impact, I think. Anyway, there weren't any signs of him havin' ever regained consciousness. I found his body when I was lookin' for you this afternoon."
Hutch reached up and gripped Starsky's shoulder. He could see his friend was on the brink of exhaustion and that he was affected by Carl's death.
"I, uh...well, I couldn't bury him, Hutch; so I had to cover up the body to keep the wild animals from gettin' to him."
Hutch looked up at his partner; concern etched his face. He knew Starsky had never spent time in the woods, so naturally, he would be a little uneasy around any wild animal. Hutch hoped there hadn't been any scary encounters at the crash scene.
"Did you see anything...bear...mountain lion?" Hutch knew these animals were common place in the forests of northern California. A predator nearby could mean trouble for them. The surprised look on Starsky's face told him his partner hadn't considered these possibilities.
"Just a raccoon," Starsky answered. "I don't know who was more scared, him or me. I did hear a wolf or somethin' howlin'. It seemed a little too close for comfort, if you ask me."
Hutch smiled, but decided not to tease Starsky. He thought, for a city boy, Starsk had done a hell of a good job keeping them alive so far. He watched Starsky pulling clothes out of the duffel bag.
"Listen, Blondie, I ain't tryin' to get fresh with you, or nothin'; but you're gonna need help gettin' out of those wet clothes." Starsky waggled his eyebrows, drawing a soft chuckle from Hutch. He knew Starsky was trying to lighten the mood.
As it turned out, the only way to get the wet jeans off without disturbing the homemade splint was to cut them off. Once they were both in dry clothes, Starsky opened the paper bag of snacks and dumped them onto the sleeping bag.
"Chow time," he said proudly, looking at Hutch for a reaction.
"Starsky, I never thought I'd live to say this, but I'm sure as hell glad you have a penchant for junk food."
Starsky smiled at Hutch and spread the assorted snacks out for him to choose from. "I ain't gonna forget you said that, pal. Next time I want a quarter for the candy machine, just remember, you owe me."
They each chose one package, agreeing to conserve food until they had a better idea of what they were up against. They ate in silence—and no filet mignon ever tasted better.
Afterwards, Starsky checked Hutch's leg and adjusted the straps on the splint. Satisfied it should be okay for the remainder of the night, he helped Hutch get situated in one of the sleeping bags, then zipped it up to his chin creating a cocoon. The temperature had already dropped low enough that little white clouds of vapor hung in the air when they talked. Starsky hoped the downy bedrolls would be enough to keep them warm. He snuggled into his own sleeping bag and started to lie down.
Hutch looked over at him and asked, "Aren't you going to turn off the lantern, Starsk?"
"Uh...I don't think we should do that, Hutch. I mean, you know...what about the mountain lions and stuff?" Starsky was plainly more nervous than he cared to admit.
"Starsk, we'll use up all the fuel, then we'll be in the dark tomorrow night."
Starsky grumbled, but knew Hutch was right. He turned over and shut off the lantern. Hutch had to stifle a laugh when he heard Starsk scoot his sleeping bag a little closer. With only the light from the moon, the forest sounds seemed closer. The frogs' croaking served as a backdrop for the serenade.
"Hutch, you asleep?" Starsky whispered.
"No. My leg hurts too much."
Starsky unzipped his sleeping bag and used the flashlight to locate the bottle of Tylenol. He returned to unzip Hutch's bag and give him two of the capsules. Hutch gratefully took the medicine then lay back down. Starsky re-zipped the bag before returning to his own bed.
After turning off the flashlight, Starsky settled back down and was quiet for a moment. "You know, we're lucky to be alive."
"Yeah. Listen, Starsk...I, well...you know I'm not really very good at saying thanks, but...thanks for looking after me today."
"Hey, what are partners for? You'd do the same for me." Hutch heard Starsky turn toward him. "We're gonna be okay. Tomorrow, I'll go for help."
"Starsky, you don't know how to find your way through the woods. You could get lost and never be seen again. I say we stick together. Let's stay here, near the crash site. Surely, someone will come looking for us."
"Maybe. But I don't think anybody's lookin' for us. Carl said he didn't think his may-day was picked up." Starsky flipped onto his back. "You warm enough, Hutch?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. Now, go to sleep, mother hen."
Eventually, Starsky was overcome by exhaustion; Hutch heard his partner's heavy, even breathing, and knew he had finally fallen asleep.
Hutch woke suddenly. His thinking muddled, he tried to move, but was constricted by the sleeping bag. Then he heard it again—a large animal trudging through the trees toward them.
"Starsky. Starsky!" he whispered loudly. The zipped sleeping bag kept him from reaching out and shaking Starsky awake.
"Wake up, Starsky! There's something out there."
That short sentence brought Starsky wide awake. "What? Where?" he sat up quickly, "Where, Hutch?"
"In the woods. For God's sake, be quiet. Could be anything," Hutch whispered.
Starsky quickly unzipped his bag and scrambled backward, colliding with the still-confined Hutch. "What should we do?"
"Well, for starters, Gordo, you could let me out of this sleeping bag." Hutch was still whispering, hoping not to give away their presence.
Starsky hastened to unzip Hutch's bag, then scrambled around, searching for the duffel. He yanked the clothes out, digging for the Magnum.
"What are you doing?"
"Lookin' for your gun—what do you think?"
"Starsky, don't tell me you're planning on shooting whatever it is."
"And you have a better plan?" Starsky mumbled over his shoulder.
"Well, I can tell you one thing. If it's a bear or a mountain lion, you'd better hope you get him with the first shot. There's nothing more dangerous than a wounded animal. Most wild animals don't attack unless provoked. They're usually more scared than we are. Light the lantern; maybe the light with frighten him off."
"Yeah, or make it easier for him to find us." Starsky's eyes were wide as he finally pulled the gun out of the duffel. Hutch had seen his partner face cold-blooded killers and not blink an eye, but just the prospect of a bear or a mountain lion had him scared witless.
"You sure about this, Hutch? I mean, what if it doesn't work? Huh?"
With a deadpan expression, Hutch answered, "Then we make a lot of noise and you do a couple of your disco moves and scare him to death."
Starsky turned and glared at Hutch with a look of sheer horror. "Very funny."
"Look, Starsk—light the lantern. If he comes any closer, fire the gun into the air and try to scare him off. But don't shoot him; and don't forget we're on his turf. I know what I'm talking about." Hutch tipped his head to one side, motioning Starsky to do as he said.
While Starsky was deciding whether or not to follow Hutch's plan, a hulking, dark form emerged from the trees. Walking on all fours, the huge black bear glistened in the moonlight, lifted his head, and sniffed the air, as if trying to pick up a scent—their scent.
Deciding there was nothing else to do, Starsk quietly pulled the lantern toward them and lifted the globe to light it. When the bear turned his head in their direction, Starsky froze, waiting for the creature to discover their location. "Light it, Starsk. Now!"
As the lantern flame flared to life, the bear jerked backward and let out an unnerving roar. Starsky and Hutch both backed closer to the wall of the cave, waiting to see what the animal would do next. Finally, he moved forward, zigzagging as he advanced.
"Oh, terrific. Anymore brilliant ideas?" Starsky flicked the cylinder open on the Magnum, checked the ammunition, then snapped it back in place.
"Now...I, uh...think now would be a good time to shoot the gun, Starsk."
"Don't you wanna invite him in for a nice little midnight snack or somethin', huh?" The bear inched closer.
Starsky moved forward with the light, hoping the motion would spook the animal and encourage him to retreat. Aware that each shot he fired diminished their precious supply of ammo, Starsky decided to try Hutch's suggestion of making noise to scare off the intruder.
He picked up the lantern and advanced toward the animal, shouting, "Get outta here! Get! Get!" while flailing the lantern ahead of him. Instead of retreating, the bear reared up on his back legs and bellowed loudly.
"That's it! You're pissin' me off, Yogi!" Starsky raised the Magnum above his head and fired one shot. The bear jerked back in fear, then turned tail, and lumbered back into the forest.
Starsky held his breath—waiting—expecting to see the animal to reappear from the woods. After several tense seconds, Hutch spoke.
"Starsk—buddy, he's gone. You can relax now."
Starsky released his breath, not even realizing that he had been holding it. Once he was certain the bear was really gone, Starsky retreated to the cave entrance. He dropped to the ground, then scooted backward into the cave until he bumped into Hutch. The contact startled him so badly he jumped.
Catching Starsky with his right arm, Hutch pulled him back against his chest, and steadied him there for a moment until he was calm. "He's gone, Starsk. You did good." He could feel his friend's heart hammering beneath his hand, only slightly faster than his own.
"Yeah, well I just hope he doesn't come back. I'd hate to have to hurt 'em."
Hutch chuckled. "Me too, partner...me too."